The Mario Blog
11.29.2010—1am
Cyrus Highsmith: An interview with one of America’s top type craftsmen

TAKEAWAY: A brief but content-filled interview with one of our favorite type designers, Cyrus Highsmith, of the FontBureau. We ask him about the influences on his work and, of course, about designing fonts for the ever popular tablets. Read on.

TAKEAWAY: A brief but content-filled interview with one of our favorite type designers, Cyrus Highsmith, of the FontBureau. We ask him about the influences on his work and, of course, about designing fonts for the ever popular tablets. Read on.

blog post image

Cyrus Highsmith is a senior designer at Boston’s Font Bureau. We have admired his work for years, and, of course, have used his fonts in many of our projects, always with great success. Without a doubt, Cyrus has established himself as one of today’s most dynamic and original voices in American type design.

The following questions for Cyrus Highsmith were prepared by me, assisted by our year round intern Reed Reibstein (Yale University ‘11).

What is your favorite part of the type design process?

Lately, my favorite part of the type design process is drawing the numbers. The numbers (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9) we use with the roman alphabet have their roots in ancient Hindi numbers. They migrated across the middle east, evolving along the way, and then were introduced into Europe during the Moorish occupation of Spain. They have very different structures than the Roman capitals. Our capitals tend to have structures that are symmetrical like the ‘H’ or ‘T’, or open on the right like the ‘E’ or ‘P’. Our numbers tend to be asymmetrical like the ‘4’ and open on the left like the ‘3’. I am simplifying of course but my point is that the numbers are interesting structures to work with and draw so they are compatible the capitals and lowercase.

Which type designers have the most influence on your work?

I suppose the type designers who influence me the most are the ones who I work with. This includes experienced masters like David Berlow and Matthew Carter as well as our newest designer David Jonathan Ross with his fresh perspective and enthusiasm. At the moment, I am sitting next to Joan Carles Casasín from BaseLab and we are talking, drawing, and cooking up new projects together.

What has been your most challenging project?

I am working on a book about what goes on inside a paragraph of text. It came from the lectures I have been giving to my typography students at RISD. I hope to finish it in early 2011. I didn’t think it would be easy but writing and illustrating a book has really pushed me to edge! There are a lot of excellent books about typography already so it took a long time to boil it down into something that will hopefully add something fresh to the ecosystem.

What are some of the challenges of designing increasingly for the screen? Specifically, readers of my blog would love to hear your views on designing type for the tablets.

When designing a screen typeface for text, you are limited by the resolution. This effects how much detail is going to visible. In print, 10 point Garamond can appear quite different than a 10 point Caslon, for example. The difference between these fonts set at an equivalent size on a tablet screen is much less. There just aren’t enough pixels to do it. From my point of view, this is very discouraging.

But more discouraging is the lack of typographic control and what happens to the fonts after I am finished drawing them. The tablet sized screen often forces the layouts to have columns that are too narrow, too much space between the lines, and terrible H&Js. Tablets are very advanced in terms of some kinds of technology but extremely primitive in other ways. I think it will take a collaboration between graphic designers, type designers, publishers, and tablet manufactures to figure it out.

Are you optimistic about e-books evolving away from the sameness you mention in “The Smell of Books”?

Yes, I am sure it will happen. E-books will improve. In fact, probably they have already improved since I wrote that article a couple of months ago. It is a very new medium and it would be foolish to say they will never get better. I will confess that I don’t have an iPad or a Kindle yet. I am waiting for a couple of years.

In the meantime, I did install the free Kindle app on my android phone because of course I am curious and excited to see what e-books are like. After using it for the summer, I am back to reading paper books that I check out from my local library. However, I am a big fan of the e-book versions of books that have fallen into the public domain that I can download for free.

Can you share some recent pages from your sketch book?

Yes, you can see more or less recent pages on occupant.org.
pages from 2008
pages from 2010
I also contributed some pages to Steve Heller’s new book Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers. I haven’t seen it yet but it looks like a great book with a lot of talented contributors.

Some of Cyrus’ fonts

blog post image
One of his most popular fonts, Escrow, sturdy, elegant and durable

blog post image
Antenna is Cyrus’ perhaps most popular font, the sans serif that changes the pace

blog post image
Cyrus’ newest font: Ibis Display could be as functional as a headline face but also for headers and logos.

blog post image
From Cyrus’ sketchbook.

Of special interest: Cyrus Highsmith

Cyrus writes about his fascination with books in this highly recommendable piece: “The Smell of Books”
Here is a quote:

The typographic issues that arise when trying to fit a page of text onto a small screen are obvious, tedious to describe, and unnecessary to review for an audience of graphic designers.

http://type101.fontbureau.com/smell-books/.

More of Cyrus’ sketches (pages from 2008, 2010):
occupant.org.

Coming up:

Cyrus tells us that he has also contributed some pages to Steve Heller’s new book Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers.


TheMarioBlog post # 683

Blog Post07.14.2017—1am
Local newspapers, new digital strategies that work
Blog Post07.13.2017—1am
The Donald Jr. Russian story: It’s somewhere on that front page
Blog Post07.12.2017—1am
Ecuador: where print still dominates
Blog Post07.11.2017—1am
Making those Tweets more graphic
Blog Post07.10.2017—1am
The pain of transformation begins with the people involved
Blog Post07.03.2017—1am
Gone to the beach!
Blog Post06.30.2017—1am
Latest EyeTrack study: how we read news on smartphones
Blog Post06.29.2017—1am
The yellow pages: yes, they are still around
Blog Post06.28.2017—1am
Tablets are nice, but those smartphones dominate
Blog Post06.27.2017—12am
Goldman Sachs and the economics of design
Blog Post06.26.2017—1am
Trump, lies and storytelling
Blog Post06.23.2017—1am
Here’s Exchange, the new Frere-Jones font: it projects calm, authority
Blog Post06.22.2017—1am
The word “redesign” should be retired
Blog Post06.21.2017—1am
IAPA’s Digital Summit 2017 opens today in Miami
Blog Post06.20.2017—1am
Senior citizens read news on their mobile platforms! Surprise!
Blog Post06.19.2017—1am
Italy: we create new logo for The Post Internazionale
Blog Post06.16.2017—1am
Forget the one headline fits all theory!
Blog Post06.15.2017—1am
Change in newsroom goes beyond just a protocol statement
Blog Post06.14.2017—12am
Telling the story with just quotes
Blog Post06.13.2017—12am
How US front pages displayed the Comey story
Blog Post06.12.2017—12am
Making those complicated Washington political stories more visually interesting.
Blog Post06.09.2017—1am
Attracting young audiences (2)–Snapchat Discover
Blog Post06.08.2017—1am
Montreal’s La Presse+ says adieu to print!
Blog Post06.07.2017—1am
Attracting those younger readers (1): one gift subscription at a time
Blog Post06.06.2017—1am
The battle for your ears
Blog Post06.05.2017—1am
Quick ways to tell stories
Blog Post06.02.2017—1am
Garcia Media turns 25!
Blog Post06.01.2017—1am
It’s social media the publisher
Blog Post05.31.2017—1am
Before you get the room, read the Airbnb Magazine
Blog Post05.30.2017—1am
It’s a new homepage for The Atlantic
Blog Post05.26.2017—1am
New book: Designing for Touch
Blog Post05.25.2017—1am
Medium redesigns homepage: curated content is the key
Blog Post05.24.2017—1am
It’s the new storytelling, the new editing, the new design
Blog Post05.23.2017—1am
Millennials and their obsession with their phones—publishers, take note!
Blog Post05.22.2017—1am
Spiegel Daily: the German magazine’s new product
Blog Post05.19.2017—1am
Another day, another Trump bombshell for the front pages
Blog Post05.18.2017—1am
From digital to print: another example
Blog Post05.16.2017—6am
Trump bombshell news lands on the front pages
Blog Post—1am
For The Guardian: one contributor at a time
Blog Post05.15.2017—1am
The New York Times banks on kids: never too early!
Contact us with speaking requests, questions or to discuss a project.